If there’s anything we know, it’s that achieving a healthy weight post-baby can be a struggle. It can be stressful taking care of a newborn, adjusting to a new routine, and recovering from childbirth. It’s a lot.
However, it’s important to return to a healthy weight after delivery, especially if you plan to become pregnant again in the future.
We’ll go over some effective methods to help you achieve a healthy postpartum weight so you can take on parenthood with a pep in your step.
What is “baby weight”?
Here’s some background on what “baby weight” is, why it happens during pregnancy, and why it won’t be needed after the baby makes its appearance in the world.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that women within a healthy weight range who are carrying one baby gain 25 to 35 pounds (11.5 to 16 kg) during pregnancy.
Recommended weight gains for expectant people who are underweight, overweight, or carrying multiple babies are different. Check out the interactive calculators at the Institute of Medicine/National Academies to determine your individual recommended weight gain.
Your healthcare providers may also have different recommendations based on your own needs.
According to research published in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology, pregnancy weight gain consists of:
- the baby
- amniotic fluid
- breast tissue
- uterus enlargement
- extra fat stores
The extra fat acts as an energy reserve for birth and breastfeeding. However, excess weight gain can result in too much fat. This is what people generally refer to as “baby weight,” and it’s very common.
Nearly half of all pregnant women gain more than the recommended amount of weight during pregnancy, according to the CDC.
The consequences of keeping on some of this extra weight after pregnancy include:
- increased risk of being overweight
- heightened risk of diabetes and heart disease
- greater risk of complications during pregnancy
- higher health risks for women with gestational diabetes
The following list provides evidence-based tips to help you lose the extra pounds.
Tips to help lose baby weight
1. Keep your goals realistic
Despite what magazines and celebrity stories would have you believe, losing weight after pregnancy takes time.
In one 2015 study, 75 percent of women were heavier 1 year after giving birth than they had been before pregnancy. Of these women, 47 percent were at least 10 pounds heavier at the 1-year mark, and 25 percent had kept on 20 more pounds.
Depending on how much weight you gained during pregnancy, it is realistic to expect that over the next 1 to 2 years you could lose around 10 pounds (4.5 kg). If you gained more weight, you may find you end up a few pounds heavier than you were pre-pregnancy.
Of course, with a good eating plan and exercise, you should be able to achieve any healthy level of weight loss that your doctor gives the thumbs up.
2. Don’t follow a crash diet
Crash diets are very low calorie diets that aim to make you lose a large amount of weight in the shortest amount of time possible.
After delivering a baby, your body needs good nutrition to heal and recover. In addition, if you are breastfeeding, you require more calories than normal, according to the CDC.
A low-calorie diet is likely to be lacking in important nutrients and will probably leave you feeling tired. This is the opposite of what you need when taking care of a newborn, and when you’re likely sleep-deprived.
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Assuming your weight is currently stable, decreasing your calorie intake by about 500 calories per day will stimulate safe weight loss of about 1.1 pounds (0.5 kg) per week. This amount of weight loss is considered safe for breastfeeding women, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
For example, a woman eating 2,000 calories per day could eat 300 fewer calories and burn an extra 200 calories through exercise, making a reduction of 500 calories in total.
3. Breastfeed if you can
The World Health Organization (WHO), the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), and the CDC all recommend breastfeeding. Breastfeeding your baby during the first 6 months of life (or much longer) has many benefits for both you and your baby:
- Provides nutrition: Breast milk contains all the nutrients a baby needs to grow and thrive in the first 6 months of life, according to the WHO.
- Supports the baby’s immune system: Breast milk also contains important antibodies that help your baby fight viruses and bacteria.
- Lowers the risk of disease in infants: Breastfed infants have a lower risk of asthma, obesity, type 1 diabetes, respiratory disease, ear infections, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), and gastrointestinal infections.
- Reduces the mother’s risk of disease: People who breastfeed have lower risks of high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, breast cancer, and ovarian cancer.
Additionally, research has shown that breastfeeding can support postpartum weight loss.
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However, in the first 3 months of breastfeeding, you may experience no weight loss or even some weight gain. This is due to increased calorie needs and intake, as well as reduced physical activity during lactation.
4. Monitor your calorie intake
We know, calorie counting isn’t for everyone. But if you’re finding that eating intuitively just doesn’t seem to be working, monitoring calories can help you work out how much you are eating and where any problem areas in your eating plan may be.
It can also help you ensure you are getting enough calories to provide you with the energy and nutrition you need.
You can do this by:
- keeping a food diary
- taking pictures of your food as a reminder of what you have eaten
- trying a mobile calorie tracking app
- sharing your daily calorie intake with a friend who is also monitoring calories for accountability
Using these techniques can help you reduce your portion sizes and choose healthier foods, which helps with weight loss.
5. Eat foods high in fiber
It’s time to get those healthy grains and veggies on your shopping list. Eating foods that are high in fiber has been shown to help with weight loss.
For example, a 2019 study of 345 people found that an increase of 4 grams of fiber over what participants had eaten before the study led to an average additional weight loss of 3 1/4 pounds over 6 months.
Soluble fiber foods may also help you feel fuller for longer by slowing down digestion and reducing hunger hormone levels, according to a 2015 clinical trial.
These effects on digestion may help reduce calorie intake, though the results of studies overall are mixed.
6. Stock up on healthy proteins
Including protein in your diet can boost metabolism, decrease appetite, and reduce calorie intake, according to research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
Studies show that protein has a greater “thermic” effect than other nutrients. That means that the body uses more energy to digest it than other types of foods, which results in more calories burned.
Research also shows that protein is also able to suppress appetite by increasing the fullness hormones GLP and GLP-1, as well as reducing the hunger hormone ghrelin. Less hungry hormones mean less hangry-ness!
Healthy protein sources include:
- lean meats
- low mercury fish
- nuts and seeds
7. Keep healthy snacks handy
The foods you have around can have a big effect on what you eat. And when you’re searching the pantry for something to munch, a healthy alternative is just the ticket.
By stocking up on healthy snacks, you can ensure you have something close at hand when the mood strikes. Here are some to keep on hand:
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- cut vegetables and hummus
- mixed nuts and dried fruit
- Greek yogurt and homemade granola
- air-popped popcorn
- string cheese
- spiced nuts
- seaweed snacks
Research shows that just keeping fruit out on the counter has been associated with a lower body mass index (BMI).
Likewise, a comparative study showed that having unhealthy foods out on the counter is associated with increased weight. Pro tip: Keep processed foods and sweets out of the kitchen, or even better, out of the house.
8. Avoid added sugar and refined carbs
Though they may be tempting, sugar and refined carbs are high in calories and usually low in nutrients. And there are healthy and delicious alternatives.
Research associates a high intake of added sugar and refined carbs with an increase in weight, diabetes, heart disease, some cancers, and even cognitive decline.
Common sources of added sugars include:
- sugary drinks
- fruit juice
- any type of refined sugar
- white flour
- sweet spreads
When you’re choosing food at the grocery store, read the food labels. If sugar is one of the first ingredients on the list, that product is probably better to avoid.
It’s easy to reduce your sugar intake by avoiding processed foods and sticking to whole foods such as vegetables, legumes, fruits, meats, fish, eggs, nuts, and yogurt.
Here are some examples of low-sugar breakfast ideas to get your wheels turning:
9. Avoid highly processed foods
If you’ve been taking note so far, a lot of these tips are made far easier when you’re eating whole, unprocessed foods. They’re usually full of protein, fiber, and less sugar.
Processed foods, on the other hand, are often high in sugar, unhealthy fats, salt, and calories, all of which can counteract your weight loss efforts, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
These foods include:
- fast foods
- prepackaged foods
- cookies and baked goods
- ready meals
- boxed mixes
- processed cheeses
- sugary cereals
Plus research has associated consumption of processed foods with more addictive eating behavior.
Unfortunately, these foods make up a large part of many people’s nutritional intake, according to research published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
You can reduce the amount of processed foods you eat by replacing them with fresh, whole, nutrient-dense foods.
10. Avoid alcohol
Research has shown that small amounts of alcohol, such as a glass of red wine, do have some health benefits.
However, when it comes to weight loss, alcohol provides extra calories without much in the way of nutrition.
Additionally, alcohol may be related to weight gain and may lead to more fat being stored around the organs, also known as belly fat.
According to research, there is no known safe level of alcohol for infants. The CDC advises that the safest option for infants is for breastfeeding mothers not to drink at all.
When you’re in the mood to celebrate, we’d recommend something low sugar and bubbly like unsweetened flavored sparkling water.
11. Get moving
Moving your body has tons of benefits in general, but can especially supercharge weight loss. Cardio, such as walking, jogging, running, cycling, and interval training, helps you burn calories and has numerous health benefits.
According to the CDC, exercise improves heart health, reduces the risk and severity of diabetes, and may reduce the risk of several types of cancer.
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Although exercise alone may not help you lose weight, an analysis of eight studies showed that exercise will help if you combine it with good nutrition.
For example, the analysis showed that people who combined diet and exercise lost an average of 3.7 pounds (1.72 kg) more than those who just dieted.
The CDC indicates that aerobic exercise is especially important for fat loss and heart health. So even just going for a walk is a good step toward improving your weight and health.
After delivery, your pelvic and stomach areas need time to heal, especially if you have had a cesarean delivery.
How long after childbirth you can safely start exercising depends on the mode of delivery, whether there were any complications, how fit you were before and during pregnancy, and how you feel generally. Your healthcare professional will help you decide your timing.
After your healthcare professional gives you the go-ahead to start exercising, the CDC recommends that postpartum people do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity, such as brisk walking, spread throughout the week.
After you get the go-ahead to start, find an activity you enjoy and can continue long after you get to a healthy weight.
12. Don’t resist that resistance training
Resistance training like weight lifting will help you lose weight and retain muscle mass.
Research has shown that a combination of diet and resistance training is the most effective method for reducing weight and improving heart health.
Finding time to exercise with a baby can be difficult, but some gyms offer classes for mothers and babies, as well as YouTube videos and mobile apps that can help you out.
Simple bodyweight exercises at home are free and can be modified to your skill level.
13. Drink enough water
Stay hydrated, friends. Drinking enough water is vital for anyone trying to lose weight. The CDC points out that choosing water over just one 20-ounce sweetened beverage can save you 240 calories.
According to a 2016 study, drinking water may increase your sense of fullness and stimulate your metabolism, leading to weight loss.
However, not all researchers agree. Another study suggests there is no conclusive correlation between water consumption and weight loss.
However, for breastfeeding women, there’s no question that staying hydrated is important to replace fluids lost through milk production.
A common recommendation from health authorities is to drink eight 8-ounce glasses, which amounts to half a gallon, or about 2 liters. This is easy to remember as the “8×8 rule.”
The 8×8 rule is a good goal that can assist with weight loss and keep you hydrated. However, women who are breastfeeding or exercising strenuously may need more.
Plain water is best, but unsweetened sparkling water once in a while can add some variety.
14. Get enough sleep
You already know this is a tough one. That little one wants you around the clock. But doing whatever you can to get adequate sleep will benefit you.
A lack of sleep can negatively affect your weight. One research review showed that a lack of sleep is related to retaining more weight after pregnancy.
This association may also be true for adults in general. A review of 11 studies found a significant correlation between short amounts of sleep and obesity.
For new mothers, getting enough sleep can be a challenge. Strategies that may help include asking for help from family and friends and limiting your caffeine intake
Don’t forget: Your health is just as important as baby’s health, so ask for help to get the sleep you need.
15. Seek support
Group-based weight loss can be beneficial for some people. A research analysis showed that people who engage in group-based weight loss tend to lose more, or at least as much, weight as those who lose weight alone.
Both face-to-face weight loss groups and online communities may be helpful.
However, another research review that included 16,000 people found that group weight loss had no significant effect compared to other weight-loss interventions.
Finding a method that suits your lifestyle and preferences is probably the best option. Here are some ways to find your people.
16. Ask for help
Being a new parent can be a daunting role and a lot of work. Sleep deprivation and stress can be overwhelming, and 1 in 9 new mothers also experience postpartum depression.
While achieving a healthy weight after pregnancy is important, it shouldn’t add undue stress and anxiety. Making small changes that you can maintain for the long haul is key.
If you are feeling depressed or anxious, or you’re simply struggling to cope, don’t be afraid to reach out for help. Ask friends and family for help around the house, preparing meals, or taking care of the baby for a few hours to allow you to rest or get some exercise.
If you need more help, your doctor, dietitian, family nurse, or a psychologist can offer you support.
Carrying some extra weight after pregnancy is very common and nothing to get down on yourself about. Your body did an amazing thing.
But getting back into a healthy weight range is beneficial for your health and any future pregnancies so it’s worth working at.
Being healthy will allow you to enjoy time with your baby and get the most out of being a new parent.
The best and most achievable way to lose weight is through a healthy diet, breastfeeding, and exercise. Talk to your healthcare team for tips, advice, and support.
Quick takeaway tips
- Weight loss after pregnancy can take time, and you may not go back to your pre-baby weight or a healthy weight straight away.
- Low-calorie diets are not recommended, particularly for people who are breastfeeding. However, decreasing your intake by about 500 calories per day is generally safe and will help you lose about 1 pound (0.5 kg) per week.
- Breastfeeding has many benefits for both mother and child. It may make weight loss more difficult in the first 3 months postpartum, but it may help you lose weight later.
- Counting calories manually or with an app may help you keep track of what you are eating and support weight loss.
- Soluble fiber may help with weight loss by increasing feelings of fullness and regulating appetite hormones.
- Protein supports weight loss by boosting your metabolism, increasing feelings of fullness, and reducing appetite.
- Keep healthy foods like fruit, vegetables, nuts, and yogurt at home and easily accessible. Store unhealthy foods out of sight or don’t keep them in the house at all.
- Processed foods are higher in added sugars, fat, salt, and calories, and they are bad for your health. Replace them with fresh whole foods.
- Avoid alcohol if you are trying to lose weight. Additionally, the alcohol you drink may be passed to your baby during breastfeeding.
- Aerobic exercise has many important health benefits. Exercise — at any level of intensity — combined with a healthy eating plan makes for an effective weight-loss method.
- Resistance training helps you lose weight and maintain muscle mass and may help breastfeeding women retain bone mineral density.
- Drinking water boosts your metabolism and aids weight loss. It is especially important to stay hydrated during breastfeeding.
- Poor sleep can negatively impact your weight loss efforts. Although it is difficult with a newborn, try to get as much sleep as you can and ask for help when you need it.
- In-person and online weight loss groups may be beneficial, though more research is needed to compare their effectiveness to other weight loss strategies.
- Getting to a healthy weight is important, but take care not to let your weight become a cause of stress or anxiety. If you feel you aren’t coping well, ask for help from your family, friends, or medical practitioner.